If you’ve been following our blog series on internationalizing your company, On Your Mark, Get Set, Go Global, you will have made considerable strides by now. You’ve considered the pros and cons of exporting, weighed your chances for success and learned the importance of choosing a promising product or service.
You’ve taken advantage of the wealth of information and assistance that’s available to hopeful overseas traders, and you’re moving toward putting together a viable plan for your first export trial run.
Now you are ready to think about recruiting your in-house export team. As you prepare for this new development, you must remember this above all: The success of your export venture depends on a company-wide commitment. If you’re a solo operator, that means you. If you work for a large corporation, it means the executive committee, followed by the finance, operations, marketing/sales, transportation, legal, communications, data-entry, research and service departments. You’ll be setting up a network rather than an isolated department of your own, and utilizing your company’s existing human resources as much as possible.
Once you’ve evaluated the departmental resources already in place and mapped out exactly what will be required to export your product or service, you’ll prepare a list of what is required from each of these departments. Then you’ll approach each department and present the list to someone who might be willing to be a part of your export team. To whom do you go first? Someone with great sales(wo)manship qualities, an interest in the international scene, bi- or multilingual language abilities, cross-cultural awareness, good communication skills, attentiveness to detail and persistence. Use your own salesmanship here, and frame it as a challenge they won’t be able to resist.
Be sure you’re very clear on just what you’ll need from your various department contacts. You might need some people to assist you on an as-needed basis only, while others you’ll be asking for 10% of their time or five hours a week for the next year. Either way, each individual needs to know how much time they’ll be committing, how the export process works and how they fit into the overall corporate effort. Don’t be hesitant about asking for a clear commitment, preferably in writing. You need them to be there for you. I recommend that you get each department person to set aside one hour each day to work on an international sales strategy, even if there are no transactions pending. The point is to arrange a structured amount of time for purposeful activity — for creative thinking, planning and exchanging information. Making this commitment will give all participants a feeling of importance and team spirit, and maximize the company’s chances for a successful export effort.
Your export team will most likely be made up of people who will need to be trained. If you are a novice exporter, then you’ll all be learning together; either way, your job as team leader is to get their input as often as possible and to insist that they execute their part of the plan.
Here are some general ideas of what to expect from your various departmental contacts and what they’ll need from you:
- The Executive Committee. While the top brass serves as a sounding board for your updates, they are primarily interested in knowing what you will need from them to run a successful operation in the global marketplace. Whenever you go in for a meeting, plan on asking for a much larger commitment of the company’s resources than you’ll actually need. That way, you’re more likely to end up with what you need after the inevitable scaling-down of your original request.
- The Marketing/Sales/Web Staff. These are probably your company’s most creative people, but they’ll need your guidelines for how to market goods overseas without confusing or offending the foreign customer. They’ll also need cutting edge skills to conduct international business in a networked global economy, and an international marketing plan. They can use their domestic plan as a model.
- Transportation/Traffic. They know their stuff on the home front, but they’ll need to be advised on standard operating procedures for getting your product or service to another country. They must understand export documentation related to shipping, insurance, customs, methods of payment, duties, tariffs and international laws. Hiring a freight forwarder might be the answer.
- Operations. They need to know how your export sales will affect their production requirements — how many widgets you are going to sell, how often and for how long. If changes are required in the product specifications of the widget, they need to know that well in advance of the customer’s deadline so they can coordinate procurement of raw materials and schedule a production run in a timely manner. Once they have all this information, operations people usually rise to the occasion without further outside help.
- Finance. The finance people need to know how your company will get paid on its overseas sales. They will need a crash course on international payment methods and terms. Your own bank can help here.
- Research. This department can take over the job of determining which market is the best for exporting your product or service. They can find all the information they need at a good online resource, local chamber of commerce or SBA office.
Once all team members are clear on their individual responsibilities, they must learn to coordinate activities to ensure that the export operation flows smoothly. Let’s say that an overseas customer has just emailed a request for product and pricing information. The sales and marketing person is quick to respond; the customer likes what he sees and places an order.
Delighted, the salesperson passes the order to the operations guy, who enters the order into his computer and comes up with a target date for the finished product. The salesperson emails this information back to the customer, who accepts the time frame for delivery — and everything is perfect.
Perfect until Mr. Sales drops by Ms. Finance’s office and brags about the sale he just landed. Ms. Finance gives him a frosty stare and asks: “And how and when are we getting paid?” Mr. Sales finds, to his dismay, that he hasn’t a clue. He moves along to the transportation contact, hoping for a more enthusiastic response. To his embarrassment, Mr. Transportation only looks distressed. “If we ship against a letter of credit,” he exclaims, “that means we might have to get the product there by a certain date. I need to know that deadline or we might not make it!”Mr. Sales is now very anxious, and not at all looking forward to the embarrassing task of emailing back the customer to make new arrangements.
Get the picture? Your export team is just that — a team. Its members can’t work in isolation. That’s why the daily time set aside for keeping each member up to date and identifying the broad and detailed export transaction issues is so important. Each member must know how the overall process operates and tailor his or her own assigned duties to fit smoothly into that process.
These are the basics of the crack export team, whether you’ve steeled yourself to run the whole show or have been handed a staff of twenty. It’s time to tackle your first export sale. You’ve come a long way toward turning your export dreams into a lucrative reality. Congratulations and best wishes for the success of your global adventure! Stay tuned for our next entry: Enter the trial market.
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About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com. She also is the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage.
Laurel is a member of the Small Business Trends Expert Network.